For those who cringe at the phrase Asian fusion, please keep reading. Bánh mì (pronounced “bun me”) is a Vietnamese street food that unites the flavors of France and Vietnam into one crunchy, spicy and savory sandwich. Developed in 19th-century French Indochina, this affordable sub, which costs as little as $1.50, has generated a cult following across America. While there are infinite interpretations (Tuscan bánh mì, anyone?), the classic version has some sort of protein, from grilled pork to tofu to pâté, and a mixture of vegetables (such as pickled daikon radish, carrots, hot peppers and cilantro) all tucked into a crusty baguette slathered with mayonnaise. The result is an addictive sandwich that is equal parts comfort food and exotic fare.
This Little Italy sandwich shop moonlights as a jewelry store (or vice versa) and sells succulent, generously sized bánh mì starting at $3.75. 138 Mott St., (212) 941-1541
Thomas Keller–trained Will Pacio recently opened this upscale takeout spot featuring bánh mì made with organic meats and produce. The pâté is made inhouse, and sandwiches start at $6.75. 405 Howard St., (415) 882-4581, www.spicekit.com
Les Givral’s Kahve
This Vietnamese lunch counter even has a sister restaurant in Saigon. Bánh mì prices start at $2.75. 801 Congress St., (713) 547-0444, www.lesgivrals.com
The lemongrass-beef bánh mì at this eatery, which carries a dozen or so varieties, is not only top-notch, but at $1.75, it’s also a steal. 9016 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 379-7726
Dong Phuong Oriental Bakery
In a city that loves its sandwiches fully loaded, this bakery sells some of the Big Easy’s best bánh mì, which are referred to here as Vietnamese po’boys. 14207 Chef Menteur Hwy., (504) 254-0214
I Love Pho
At this Valley Ranch establishment, they keep it simple with two delicious bánh mì options: pork or chicken, at $3.45 per sandwich. 8350 N. MacArthur Blvd., (972) 402-9799, www.iluvphoirving.com
The War of the Sandwiches
Who makes the country’s best bánh mì? The question has inspired lively debate among its devotees. “Everybody has his or her favorite sandwich, and everyone is passionate about it,” says Southern California–based photographer and freelance journalist Diane Cu, who, with her partner Todd Porter, launched the community-based website Battleofthe BanhMi.com. Not only does the site let visitors search for and nominate their favorite bánh mì joints by state, it also includes recipes provided by Cu and Porter for those adventurous souls who want to make their own at home.